Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre (September 26, 1709 – September 30, 1772) was a Catholic priest and missionary for the Paris Foreign Missions Society. In the eighteenth-century struggle for power between the French, Acadians and Mi’kmaq against the British over Acadia and Nova Scotia, Le Loutre became the leader of the French forces and the Acadian/ Mi’kmaq militias during King George’s War and Father Le Loutre’s War.
He was born in 1709 to Jean-Maurice Le Loutre Després, a paper maker, and Catherine Huet, the daughter of a paper maker, in the parish of Saint-Matthieu in Morlaix, France in Brittany. In 1730, the young Le Loutre entered the Séminaire du Saint-Esprit in Paris; both his parents had already died. After completing his training, Le Loutre transferred to the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères (Seminary of Foreign Missions) in March 1737, as he intended to serve the church abroad. Most of the priests associated with the Paris Foreign Missions Society were assigned as missionaries to Asia, particularly during the nineteenth century, but Le Loutre was assigned to eastern Canada and the Mi’kmaq, an Algonquian-speaking people.
When Le Loutre arrived at mainland Nova Scotia in 1738, the area had been under the rule of the primarily Protestant British for almost thirty years. The British were settled mostly in the capital Annapolis Royal, while Catholic Acadians and the native Mi’kmaq occupied the rest of the region. The mainland portion of Acadia (present-day New Brunswick), and Île-Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island) remained under French control. Prior to the conquest of 1710, the New England colonists had been raiding, pillaging, burning and taking prisoners from Acadian communities for the previous hundred years. The French Canadian colonists and their Indian allies similarly raided New England communities, and both sides made money from the ransom of captives. The Indians adopted some captives, especially younger children, some of whom stayed with the tribes for the rest of their lives.
In 1738 the French had no formal military presence at mainland Nova Scotia. The Acadians had refused for 30 years to sign a loyalty oath to the British Crown, but without French military support, the settlers were unable to give more support to French efforts to recapture Nova Scotia. Le Loutre became an informal military agent and joined with the local Mi’kmaq and Acadian militias to oppose the British Protestant domination of Acadia.
Le Loutre sailed for Acadia soon after and arrived in Louisbourg that autumn, along with others who would settle there. He was to replace Abbé de Saint-Vincent, a missionary to the Mi’kmaq and live in Shubenacadie. Before doing so, Le Loutre spent time at Malagawatch, Île-Royale (now known as Merigomish, Nova Scotia) to learn the Mi’kmaq language. He worked with Pierre Maillard to develop a written form of the Mi’kmaq language, which belonged to the Algonquian family. On September 22, 1738, Le Loutre left for Shubenacadie, where he ministered the Mi’kmaq at Mission St. Anne.
King George’s War
Raid on Annapolis Royal
During King Georges War, the neutrality of Le Loutre and the Acadians was tested. By the end of the war, most British officials who had been sympathetic toward the Acadians concluded that they and Le Loutre were supportive of the French Catholic position. Le Loutre was involved in two raids on the British at Annapolis Royal. The first Siege of Fort Anne (1744), was orchestrated with François Dupont Duvivier and was unsuccessful. The following year, Louisburg fell for the first time to a force of New Englanders. The authorities in Quebec immediately gave Le Loutre instructions that made him a military leader, whereby the French government could work with the Mi’kmaq militia in Acadia.
Duc d’Anville Expedition
The second siege on Annapolis Royal was organized with Ramezay and the ill-fated Duc d’Anville Expedition (1746). With Louisbourg captured by the British, Le Loutre became the liaison between the Acadian settlers and French expeditions by land and sea. The authorities directed him to receive the expedition at Baie de Chibouctou (present-day Halifax, Nova Scotia). Le Loutre was virtually the only person to know the signals to identify the ships of the fleet. He had to coordinate the operations of the naval force with those of the army of Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay, sent to retake Acadia by capturing Annapolis Royal early in June 1746. Ramezay and his detachment arrived at Beaubassin (near present-day Amherst, Nova Scotia) in July, when only two frigates of the French squadron had reached Baie de Chibouctou. Without seeking the agreement of the two captains, Le Loutre wrote to Ramezay suggesting an attack be made on Annapolis Royal without the full expedition; but his advice was not acted upon. They waited over two months for the expedition to arrive; slowed by contrary winds and ravaged by disease, the expedition returned home.
After the failed expedition, Le Loutre returned to France. While in France, he made two attempts during the war to return to Acadia. On both occasions he was imprisoned by the English. In 1749, after the war, he finally returned.
During King George’s War, Le Loutre was joined in resisting the British by an important Acadian militia leader, Joseph Broussard.
Father Le Loutre’s War
Father Le Loutre’s War began when the British began to establish Protestant settlers in Nova Scotia by founding Halifax. Le Loutre moved his base of operation from Shubenacadie to Pointe-à-Beauséjour on the Isthmus of Chignecto.
When Le Loutre arrived at Beauséjour, France and England were disputing the ownership of present-day New Brunswick. A year after they established Halifax (1749), the British built forts in the major Acadian communities: Fort Edward (at Piziquid), Fort Vieux Logis at Grand Pré and Fort Lawrence (at Beaubassin). The British were also interested in building forts in the various Acadian communities to control the local populations.
Battle at Chignecto (1750)
Le Loutre led the resistance to the British building forts in the Acadian villages. Le Loutre and the French were established at Beauséjour, just opposite Beaubassin. Charles Lawrence first tried to establish control over Beauséjour and then at Beaubassin early in 1750, but his forces were repelled by Le Loutre, the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. To prevent Lawrence from establishing a fort at Beaubassin and to move Acadians to French-controlled territory, Le Loutre had Beaubassin burned.
Defeated at Beaubassin, Lawrence went to Piziquid where he built Fort Edward; he forced the Acadians to destroy their church and replaced it with the British fort. Lawrence eventually returned to the area of Beaubassin to build Fort Lawrence. He encountered continued resistance there, with the Mi’kmaq and Acadians dug in before Lawrence’s return to defend the remains of the village. Le Loutre was joined again by the Acadian militia leader Broussard. They were eventually overwhelmed by force, and the New Englanders erected Fort Lawrence at Beaubassin.
In the spring of 1751, the French countered by building Fort Beauséjour. Le Loutre saved the bell from Notre Dame d’Assumption Church in Beaubassin and put it into the cathedral he had built beside Fort Beauséjour. In 1752 he proposed a plan to the French court to destroy Fort Lawrence and return Beaubassin to the Mi’kmaq and Acadians.
Raid on Dartmouth (1751)
Le Loutre worked with the Mi’kmaq to harass British settlers and prevent the expansion of Protestant settlements. He paid £1,800 for 18 British scalps. As with most military operations, Le Loutre maintained discipline by threatening excommunication of the Acadians who did not heed his warnings of the Protestant occupation.
Both New England and New France military officials made allies of the aboriginal tribes in their struggles for control. The aboriginal allies also engaged independently in warfare against the colonists and opposing tribes, without their English or French allies. Often aboriginal allies fought on their own while the imperial powers tried to conceal their involvement in such initiatives, to prevent igniting large-scale warfare between England and France.
Le Loutre wrote to the minister of the Marine:
“As we cannot openly oppose the English ventures, I think that we cannot do better than to incite the Mi’kmaq to continue warring on the English; my plan is to persuade the Mi’kmaq to send word to the English that they will not permit new settlements to be made in Acadia. …I shall do my best to make it look to the English as if this plan comes from the Mi’kmaq and that I have no part in it.”
The Acadian militia leader Broussard led the Raid on Dartmouth (1751); it became known among the British as the “Dartmouth Massacre” (1751). He also led the Raid on Halifax, during which Mi’kmaq killed the gardener of Governor Edward Cornwallis. The raids were successful in containing British settlement to the only places they could fortify, Halifax (1749) and Lunenburg (1753).
Edward Cornwallis, the governor of Nova Scotia, ordered the executions of Le Loutre and participating Mi’kmaq. He offered rewards for their scalps. He also ordered the Acadians to stay in the Cobequid (which was against Le Loutre’s direction), for Cornwallis feared their gathering strength in present-day New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. He also tried to interrupt their support of Louisburg.
Acadian exodus (1750–52)
With the founding of Halifax and the Protestant occupation of Nova Scotia intensifying, Le Loutre led the Acadians who lived in the Cobequid region of mainland Nova Scotia to Catholic-occupied New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Cornwallis tried to prevent the Acadians from leaving as the English preferred to retain their substantial economic value in farming. However, deputies of the Acadian communities presented him with a petition to allow them to refuse to take arms against fellow Frenchman or they would leave. Cornwallis strongly refused their request and directed them that if they left, they could not take any belongings, and warned them that if they went to the area north of the Missaguash River they would still be in English territory and still be British subjects.
The Cobequid Acadians wrote to the people in Beaubassin about British soldiers who,
… came furtively during the night to take our pastor [Girard] and our four deputies …. [A British officer] read the orders by which he was authorized to seize all the muskets in our houses, thereby reducing us to the condition of the Irish…. Thus we see ourselves on the brink of destruction, liable to be captured and transported to the English islands and to lose our religion.
Despite Cornwallis’ threats, most Acadians in the Cobequid followed Le Loutre. The priest tried to establish new communities, but found it difficult to supply the new settlers, the Mi’qmaq, and the garrisons at Fort Beauséjour and Île Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) with food and other necessities. Finding the living conditions deplorable at New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, he made repeated appeals in 1752 for aid from the authorities in Quebec. He returned to France to seek funds, which he gained in 1753 from the courts, for the purpose of building dykes in Acadia. Protecting low-lying lands from the tides would enable their use as pasture for cattle and developed with cultivation for crops, so the Acadians could escape the risk of starvation. Granted additional monies, Le Loutre sailed back to Acadia with other missionaries in 1753.
Battle of Fort Beauséjour (1755)
At the outbreak in 1754 of the last of the French and Indian Wars fought to control North America, the French government appointed Le Loutre vicar-general of Acadia. He directed Acadians from Minas and Port Royal to assist in building a cathedral at Beauséjour. It was an exact replica of the original Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral. A month after the cathedral was completed, the British attacked. Upon the imminent fall of Fort Beauséjour, Le Loutre burned the cathedral to the ground to prevent its falling into the hands of the British. He had the bell removed and saved. Not only were such cast bells expensive, but to save it was a symbolic act of hope for rebuilding, as he had brought the bell from the church at Beaubassin when that village was burned. This defeat was the catalyst for the Deportation of the Acadians. The cathedral bell is held at the Fort Beauséjour National Historic Site.
Aware of his risk, Le Loutre escaped to Quebec through the woods. In the late summer, he returned to Louisbourg and sailed to France. His ship was seized by the British in September, and Le Loutre was taken prisoner and held in Elizabeth Castle, Jersey. He was imprisoned for eight years, until after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) that ended the Seven Years’ War.
After that, he tried to help Acadians deported to France to settle in areas such as Morlaix, Saint-Malo, and Poitou. On a trip to Poitou to show Acadians the land, Le Loutre died at Nantes on September 30, 1772. He was buried the following day at the Church of St. Leonard, Nantes. Le Loutre willed his worldly possessions to the displaced Acadians.